Tchaikovsky Sounds Funny: May 2007

Is this where I put in key words such as sex, lesbians, vampires, Christopher Lloyd and others things to which this blog do not pertain, but by putting them here, I may get hits from all the Christoper Lloyd lesbian vampire fans (and you know who you are)? This is the primarily humorous and occasionally rambling writings of Leon Tchaikovsky, humor writer. Enjoy.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Lots of Lots of Boring Stuff

The following are notes from the recent National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) Spring 2007 meetings and discussions:


Sarah Hammond of NCSL notes 38 states (including Pennsylvania) place a maximum age of 17 years old at or below which a person may be charged with a crime before juvenile court. 9 states place the maximum age at 16 and three states set the maximum age at 15. 11 states (including Pennsylvania) have a minimum age at which one may be charged with a crime before juvenile court at age 10, one state sets the minimum age at 8, and three states set the minimum age at 7. The other 34 states have not set a minimum age. If there has been any trend, three states have all lowered this minimum age since 1993 and one state raised and then lowered its minimum age.

There are provisions that allow an extended jurisdiction for juvenile court, with 24 states including Pennsylvania setting this maximum age at age 20, 2 states set this age at 19, 6 states set this age at 18, 1 state sets this age at 21, one state sets this age at 22, four states set this age at 24, and three states set this maximum age at the end of the full term of a court order.

Judicial waivers that allow a court to try a juvenile as an adult are permitted in 46 states, 29 states have a statutory exclusion, and 15 states permit a prosecutor to so file at the prosecutor's discretion. 23 states, including Pennsylvania, set no minimum age at which a juvenile may be brought before adult court. 2 states set this minimum age at 10, two states set this age at 12, 6 states set this age at 13, 16 states set this age at 14, and one state sets this age at 15.

The past two decades has seen an increase in juvenile violent crimes with even sharper increases observed among younger offenders. 47 states and DC responded in some legislative fashion to increase the penalties of juvenile crime and/or make it easier to transfer a juvenile to adult court. The trend has been towards more punishment and less rehabilitation. 21 states, including Pennsylvania, also passed laws allowed some juvenile criminal cases to be held in open hearing. 28 states, not including Pennsylvania, require juvenile sex offenders to register as sex offenders.

While the trend has been more towards punishment, some states have increased efforts towards rehabilitation Attempts are made to keep juveniles offenders to serve their sentences separate from adult offenders. Some are kept in community based facilities. These efforts are met with resistance from those who argue that juvenile offenders deserve punishment, that the efforts at rehabilitation seem to have little effect at deterring subsequent criminal behavior, and that keeping violent youth offenders in community based centers places the community at risk.

Supporters of keeping juvenile offenders separate from prison argue that imprisoned young are more apt to be tutored by adult prisoners on further criminal behavior, be brutalized, be sexually assaulted, and kill themselves. Recent advances in brain development research also shows youthful criminal behavior can be outgrown by maturity and rehabilitation will work with some young. There appears to be a more recent reversal away from punishment towards rehabilitation efforts.


Laurence Steinberg, Distinguished University Professor of Psychology at Temple University, spoke about the trend over the past two decades that punishing juvenile offenders rather than seeking individualized disposition of troubled children. Dr. Steinberg urged for a triage approach that identifies troubled youth as soon as possible, even before the teen years, and then puts the troubled youth into an appropriate program with the flexibility to adjust treatment according to the individual situation. The crime codes now define set punishment for all offenders. Zero tolerance programs are capturing many more youth and punishing them. Such laws do not allow for individualized help for the troubled young.

In Philadelphia, according to Dr. Steinberg, the courts are becoming the youth mental health treatment facility. Special education students are moved into the judicial system in order to have them placed into mental health care. Even parents are requesting the court system to take their children so they may receive mental health assistance that they are otherwise unable to access.

Children have limited mental development that makes them incapable of being defendants in court, yet prosecutors have received greater ability to have young offenders tried as adults. Dr. Steniberg argues that young people have not yet achieved the maturity to fully conceive of their crimes. Fortunately, much youthful criminal behavior is outgrown upon reaching maturity around age 25 to 30, Some, though, become career repreat offenders, and those are the offenders that need to be dealt with in the criminal justice system. Too many children, though, are entering the criminal justice system rather than receiving individualized treatement, according to Dr. Steinberg.

Dr. Steinberg conducted a study of children in Philadelphia and three other locations. He found many young people do not understand the judicial system, the role of a jury, and many believe that the "right to remain silent" means they have that right under a police officer asks a question. Children are not prepared to face the criminal justice system.

Adolescents are still learning how to modulate their impulses and to better regulate their emotions. Dr. Steinberg argues it is cost effective to choose to treat troubled youth in community based treatment programs. In Pennsylvania, it costs $100,000 per youth per year to incarcerate a youth, and in Connecticut this annual cost is $200,000. By comparison, it costs $10,000 per year per youth to place a youth in a community based treatment program, which Dr. Steinberg argues is often more effective in treating the youth's problem.

Dr. Steinberg told of an eight year study of 1,350 youth felon offenders of both sexes in Philadelphia and Phoenix. Those that were placed in the criminal system had a higher rate of recidivism, with the majority committing a crime (not including parole violations) within two years after release. Transferring a youth to the adult system made things worse as the youth was much more likely to become a repeat offender. Youth with substance abuse problems who were placed into treatment programs were less apt to become re-offenders, yet only if they stayed in long term treatment programs. Youth who did not complete long term treatment programs became just as likely as non-treatment attendees to become repeat offenders. Community based programs that involved family members were the most effective in reducing recidivism. Long term and intensive probationary supervision was also found to be effective.

Young people who are arrested should be screened for mental health and substance abuse problems upon their entry into the juvenile system, Dr. Steinberg recommends. He suggests using institutional placement only for repeat violent offenders. He stated he is sad to admit he lives in Pennsylvania, the state with the highest number of youth serving life without parole sentences.


J. Robert Flores, Administrator of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Office of the U.S. Justice Department urges that young people with mental health issues be identified earlier and provided proper treatment sooner. He finds placing mental health services in schools and community centers as postive steps. He urges states to assess their entire array of services for children, determine which children need mental illness services but are not receiving services, determine how these services may be provided, and then assess the effectiveness of which services can best serve which children.

Public policies should look at ways to shift funds to follow where the need is, according to Mr. Flores. All too often there are sunk costs into beds, facilities, and jobs that make it difficult to shift funds. A study found 64% of male youth offenders and 70% of female youth offenders suffered from a diagnostic disorder, about half had substance abuse problems, and about one quarter had severe mental disorders. This often requires several layers of treatment. Unfortunately, if the only option available is incarceration, many with disorders will not receive treatment for the disorders. Mr. Flores spoke of the advantage of identifying young people with problems at earlier ages and how early treatment can save many future costs.


Bruce Kamradt, Director of Wraparound Milwaukee, estimates that 20% of the population suffers from a diagnosable mental health disorder. Among juvenile offenders, he estimates 60% suffer from a severe mental health disorder. He is critical that many mental health programs attempt to serve all types of different mental health difficulties with just one program. He urges more use of wraparound services that allow a person to enter programs that fit that person's mental health needs. Such programs will require careful management to ensure proper placements of people into correct treatment programs. Children mental health programs should engage family members to provide support. He also recommends mobile services that can provide crisis intervention services, if needed. He noted a wraparound youth mental health program successfully decreased inpatient psychiatric hospitalization by 80%.

Mr. Kamradt spoke about his program. He told how the most common disorders his program sees are youth with conduct disorders and depressive disorders. The range of problems seen is extensive and the approaches require a holistic approach. His program is an HMO which allows the program to use Medicaid funds. Each individual youth is assessed with an eye towards working with family needs. Community based options usually work better than institutional approaches. Funds are pooled and 70 different services among 230 agencies are involved. By targeting funds, more youth have been served with the same amount of annual funds, $18 million, today as in 1995. In 1995, 375 were served and today 2,000 young are being assisted. The program has found its best success in lowering recidivism among youth sex offenders. Pooling funds among programs does not require legislative action but does request the will of stakeholders to work together.

Margaret Jefferson, Director of Families United of Milwaukee, Inc., spoke of the need for advocacy groups assisting families of mentally ill children to accessible to families. Programs should be located in communities where families are concentrated. The Milwaukee program is along a bus line which allows it to be reached. Family input can inform counselors what assistance is effective or not for their troubled family member. Children usually respond better when they may be kept with their families as opposed to being institutionalized.

Cynthia Wainscott of the National Mental Health Association estimates that between 5 to 9 per cent of all young have a severe mental disorder that creates social, academic, or emotional impairment. Of these, many have multiple impairments. This means there are approximately four million young people in need of mental health treatment. Less than one third of these four million young receive any care. She further warns that of those receiving care, many of these are not receiving appropriate care. This is a serious problem as this is resulting in many youth with serious disabilities and with high rates of depression and suicide. She further notes that prescribing medication as treatment is not the only solution to many of youth mental health problems and that too many programs offer only medication whereas counseling and other services are required.

Ms. Wainscott notes that the Multisystemic Therapy and Functional Family Therapy programs used in Pennsylvania have significant cost benefit returns. These pilot programs in Allegheny, Chester, and Erie counties identify youth offenders with mental health issues. A coordinator finds appropriate treatment for each offender. She is critical that many states transfer children services funds into adult programs, noting that Georgia only spends 18% of its children services funds for youth and the rest is spent on adults. She urges that more efforts be provided on treatment of mental ills and substance addiction, noting that the California legislature estimates that doing so may save California hundreds of millions of dollars. She warned that if we don't so act that history should judge as more harshly than it judges the barbaric past treatment of the mentally ill because we at least knew better.


Scott Peterson, Executive Director of the Streamlined Sales Tax Governing Board, explained how a streamlined sales tax system would eliminate the inability of states to collect sales taxes due to Supreme Court decisions. This national tax will make sales taxes more uniform across states and thus less expensive for retailers to pay their sales taxes. 1,050 retailers have voluntarily registered to pay sales taxes to member states. Pennsylvania is not a member state and legislation to become a member, introduced in past sessions by Rep. David Steil, has not been introduced this session. Mr. Peterson urged legislators to designate a legislator to serve as a Delegate to the Governing Board. He notes several states have designated a Tax Administrator as a Delegate yet the administrators often feel unable to cast votes without knowing the will of their legislatures.

Maureen Riehl, Vice President of the Nationalal Retail Federation, stated her organization has been working with U.S. Senate and House members on drafting legislation to implement a streamlined sales tax. This has the support of Walmart, Staples, NCSL, and the National Governors Association. There is debate among members as to whether there should be an exemption for small businesses and if so, how this law should define qualifying small businesses. She argues that simplification lowers business costs and that a small business exemption may not be necessary, although she notes the exemption may be politically necessary in order to get this bill passed.

Deborah Bierbaum, Director of External Tax Policy for AT&T, explained how the Internet offers Voice Over services as well as other multimedia options. Some state and local telecommunications tax definitions of voice transmissions include Voice over Internet Protocols. She argues this is causing confusion amongst over who has taxing nexus over these services and that when these taxes are applied it creates market disadvantages for services that are taxed. She notes the streamlines sales and use tax proposal creates one definition.

Stephen Kranz, Tax Counsel for the Council on State Taxation, stated telecommunications services pay state and local transaction taxes for telecommunications services at a 14.17% rate. He states this is higher than the 6.12% rate that general businesses pay in state and local transaction taxes. He further notes that telecommunications providers file 47,921 tax returns compared to 7,501 returns for general businesses nationwide. He argues that is unfair to the telecommunications industry.


Miles Friedman, Executive Director of the National Association of State Development Agencies, notes that Pennsylvania has been a leader in funneling enterprise zone applications to one site and in granting tax incentives for businesses to locate in targeted distressed areas. He urged that state officials work more cooperatively with Federal officials in planning and creating enterprise zones.

Mr. Friednman told the history of state economic development agencies over the past 50 years. Budget deficits and tight budgets forced many agencies to develop private-public partnerships on state economic development projects. He argues these projects are important due to global economic competition. He believes these programs have helped stabilize the manufacturing industry, which was shaky a decade ago but today is one of the most stable employers and one of the highest paying employers. He further noted that many state economic development programs closed their research and development units due to funding shortages which he argues is a mistake to do.

State economic development agencies played crucial roles during BRAC (military base closings) and he noted that the state that were proactive rather than reactive were more successful in keeping their bases open.

The Southern states have the most aggressive economic development agencies, according to Mr. Friedman. States offer partial loans and loan guarantees that he claims often have a 10 to 1 return on investment. He advises states to create a strategic plan for their economic development programs and to reevaluate that plan every two to four years. He advises state government to use strategic planning, target assistance to specific identified industries, use grants to achieve goals, institute limits on assistance, monitor performance of assisted businesses, and to make information public.

Gary Rappaport, President of the Rappaport Companies, told how retailers pay taxes that support communities, make donations to charities, host fund raising activities, and sponsor scholarships. Retail businesses attract office space, provide gathering places for people, and have a pedestrian orientation. He urged that impact fees be divulged ahead of time as developers need to know these costs. He believes government incentives can make or break where retail projects locate. He warned that drawn out time lines on development and community opposition can kill development deals.

Greg LeRoy warns that many tax incentive programs to attract businesses cost more than the benefits. He notes one tax subsidy in Minnesota of $275,000 created just one low wage job. He has found numerous examples where the tax incentives permitted equaled over $100,000 per job created. He notes that economic development efforts are not well targeted and often avoid the poorer urban areas and often are established beyond mass transportation lines which limit the ability of low income workers to access employment at these locations. He praises Maryland's Smart Growth policies that direct development in areas with existing infrastructure. He urges economic development projects be targeted towards areas with high unemployment, low income, and that are accessible to people requiring employment.


Jeffrey Lubell, Director of the Center for Housing Policy, states zoning laws should allow greater urban densities of development. There also needs to be a sharp increase in the amount of affordable housing, he argues. Public policies that could help provide more affordable housing would be home equity loans for low income families, silent second mortgages where no mortgage payments are required until death or when the home is sold, rehabilitation loans, and rehabilitation grants.

Thayer Long, Executive Director of the National Modular Housing Council, told how 20 million people live in manufactured homes. There has been a dramatic reduction in manufactured homes being built, from 370,000 built in 1999 to 117,000 built in 2006. He stated that manufactured homes face difficulties with exclusionary zoning that retains stereotypes of manufactured homes without realizing the many different styles that are offered. He also states it has become more difficult for propsective manufactured home owners to obtain financing.

Erica Solomon of the National Apartment Association claims there will soon be a sharp increase in the demand for apartments, especially from immigrants and retirees who wish to leave their large homes. Housing policies are targeted towards home ownership by offering tax credits that apartment dwellers can not obtain. She notes that apartments are necessary in wealthier communities so that teachers, nurses, police officers, and fire fighters have places to live. She criticizes rent control as resulting in landlords not receiving sufficient rents to rehabilitate and maintain their buildings. The Brookings Institute has issued a report that concludes that rent control is enjoyed mostly by people with higher incomes while low income people are less apt to live in apartments protected by rent control.


U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns stated his department has aided in increasing renewable energy production, that agriculture exports have increased every year since 2001 after a five year decline, that agriculture's debt to asset ratio has fallen from 15% in 2001 to 11% in 2006, and that stronger agricultural production has decreased government subsidies to approximately $20 billion. He noted that six years ago there were 54 ethanol plants producing under 2 billion gallons of ethanol a year and that there are now over 70 ethanol plants producing 5 billion gallons of ethanol a year, There are 70 more ethanol plants under construction that should increase total annual production to 8 billion gallons. He further noted the changing role of family farms, noting that 85% of total farm income is derived from non-farm sources.

Secretary Johanns told how 93% of Title 1 commodity supports go to growers of five crops: corn, wheat, rice, cotton, and soybeans. He stated a support program will have to be one the fits the President's plan to balance the budget. He further told how we need food for 52.2 million school lunches every school day. He is proposing an additional $7.8 billion to be spent on preserving farm natural resources, $1.6 billion for rural hospitals, and $500 million to reduce backlogs in rural water grants.


Wan J. Kim, Assistant U.S. Attorney General, told how his office, the Civil Rights Division, was founded in 1957 and how they prosecute hate crimes offenses and human trafficking offenses. He stated that human trafficking is the second most profitable criminal activity and how it thrives on force, fear, and the fact that few victims speak English, know their rights, and that offenders take away their passports to make them feel subservient. 20 states have laws against human trafficking.

His office also enforce laws protecting people with disabilities. His office often works with local governments to correct violations and to develop workable time frames for them to become compliant.


Jimmy Mitchell, Director of the Office of Pharmacy Affairs of HRSA Pharmacy Services, told how lower pharmaceutical prices have been negotiated for many qualified hospitals and clinics yet many, especially those in rural areas with overwhelmed administrators, do not know they qualified for these reduced prime drugs. He claimed the vast majority of rural centers have been applied for these discounts. He urged legislators to check with these facilities to see if their administrators are aware of this program. If not, his office can assist in seeing if they do qualify.

A private negotiator has been hired to negotiate sub-ceiling prices for Federal qualified health centers, hemophilia treatment centers, Ryan White Programs, sexual transmitted disease and tuberculosis programs, Title X Family Planning Clinics, 638 Trial Programs, look-alike Federally qualified health centers, and disproportionate share hospitals. Qualification is pending for children’s hospitals. These facilities may receive pharmaceuticals, vaccines, and diabetic supplies for outpatients with 20% to 50% initial discounts with additional savings ranging from 1% to 90%. The average saving is 49%. Community pharmacists may be contracted.

Harry Hagel, Director of HRSA Pharmacy Services Support Center, told how his office can provide technical assistance and evaluate how to overcome barriers towards qualifying for this discount.


U.S. Rep. Grace Napolitano told of her experience as a legislator who completed the Fleming Leadership Initiative. She learned how to preservere and to work with determination. She credited that some skills she learned in this program helped her overcome the difficulties that female candidates have with fund raising and helped enable her to get elected to Congress by a narrow margin.

U.S. Rep. Ron Klein told how, during his experiences at this program that he could not tell from which political party participants belonged to. He learned the benefits of bipartianship and learned how many values are the same regardless of party.
U.S. Sen. Jon Tester told how the program allowed him to gain experience speaking and listening abour issues and values. He notes that many issues he sees in Congress originated with state legislators.

U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords mentioned how the skills she learned in this program also prepared her for a tough election to Congress. The program taught her how to build bridges to the other side, how to find common ground with representatives of differing views, and how to better focus on policies.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz told how she learned to think from the perspective of people she had not necessarily agree with. She also completed the Roosevelt Fellowship and felt both programs well prepared her to serve in Congress.


U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel stated that the reasons why we went to war did not exist and that tens of thousands of American lives have been destroyed, not to mention the damage to people in Iraq. He questioned why our troops are in Iraq, noting that the area has had religious and cultural difference for hundreds of years and we should question how the presence of American troops will resolve those differences.

As Ways and Means Committee Chairman, Rep. Rangel seeks to restore bipartisanship. He notes we need to plan trade deals and economic deals not as Democrats or Republicans but as Americans. He believes difficulties with the alternative minimum tax are creating unintended burdens to many income people. He prefers to readjust the brackets and notes several Republicans desire more of a flat tax.

Social security needs to be addressed and made a permanent entitlement, although Rep. Rangel is concerned that the Senate does not seem to wish to deal with social security this year. He also seeks comprehensive health care reform although many others prefer addressing only the problems of the uninsured.

Rep. Rangel states he will work to get medicine to countries that need it, create further environmental protections, and fight global warming.


Douglas Duncan, Senior Vice President of the Mortgage Bankers Association, notes that the reduction in home constructions is slowing the economy as it contributes towards further reduced economic purchases. He forecasts this economic drag will continue, although with decreasing impact, into the fourth quarter of this year.

A strong point in the economy is jobs creation, with 125,000 new jobs expected to be created this month. A weak aspect of this economic is that capital spending has slowed

Mr. Duncan expected mortgages to be in the 6% to 6.6% range, He sees Treasury bonds falling under 5% which should also cause mortgages rates to fall although the ten year rates used to calculate them may prevent these reductions in rates. He notes many in the bond market are betting the Federal Reserve will reduce interest rates while many mortgage lenders are betting they will not reduce rates.

Condominium prices seem to have peaked and are lowering, according to Mr. Duncan. He also sees quality adjusted prices in new homes falling, which mirrors the falling condominium price reductions. He projects that housing prices will remain depressed until December.

The weakened housing market has caused lenders to lower underwriting standards which is now resulting in increased foreclosures. This is forcing some lenders out of business.

John Peterson, Chief of Projections with the Congressional Budget Office, states he is a little more optimistic that is Mr. Duncan on the strength of the economy. He does agree that personal consumption spending is happening at lower levels. He forecasts higher fixed business investments and that the pent up demand for these investments will stimulate further economic growth. Confusion over the economic future has created a rare inverted rate structure where three month Treasury bonds offer higher interest rates than 10 year rates.

Mr. Peterson predicts the Federal Reserve Bank will attempt to drive the inflation rate below 2%. He also warns there are not enough jobs available for the all new entrants into the labor force.

Andrea Wilks, Chief Economist for the Utah Legislative Fiscal Analyst Office, noted Utah is receiving much migration from Californians who are being driven from the high housing costs of California to live in more affordable Utah. 8% of Utah jobs are in construction. Utah is concerned about its labor shortage and difficulties in filling jobs.


Corina Eckl of NCSL notes many state revenues are strong although this varies among the states. 23 states believe their General Fund collections are as expected, 15 states claim they are better than expected, and 11 states are finding their revenues are below expectations. State General Funds had 9.9% balances over expenditures in 2006, although this is expected to fall to 6.5% in 2007. Weak retail sales are causing reduced sales tax collections and are at their lowest levels in 22 years.

Ms. Eckl noted New Hampshire and Oregon are planning on budget increases of 16% and 20% respectively, although she notes Oregon had recently made several budget cuts that are now being restored. California, Florida, and New Hampshire have experienced significant reductions in realty transfer tax collections. These are not significant portions of their state budgets, though. Pennsylvania experienced is largest ever March income tax collections.


Michael Bird of NCSL explained how Congressional budget resolutions only set parameters for spending limits. Congressional budge resolutions offer reconciliation instructions, meaning that a proposed expenditure can be requested only if savings or revenue increases can be found to pay for it. The debt ceiling is nearing $9 trillion. SCHIP was proposed without adequate funding. Congress is so far using PAYGO, which requires that entitlement have means to pay for them. The Bush budget proposal calls for eliminating 141 programs yet Mr. Bird predicts at most three or four will be eliminated.

Mr. Bird warns that earmarks using funds for state programs may reduce the amount of funds available to states. New earmark rules require that the member proposing the earmark be identified, that the purpose of the earmark be specified, and that no earmark can benefit a member of Congress or a family member of a member of Congress.

The Unfunded Mandate Reform Act only required that an unfunded mandate that would cost states over $50 million per year (with indexing this is now around $60 million a year) be identified. In 1995, five bills exceeded this figure, such as food stamps and legal immigrant benefits (which has since been repealed.) Today, these programs include No Child Left Behind, special education, environmental revolving funds, and Medicare Part B.


Vermont, which saw its spending increase 7% last year, this year expects a 2% spending increase.

Utah is seeing growth in capital projects and sees pressures on its education funding.

New Mexico sees oil and gas tax revenues driving the direction of its budget.

New Hampshire is experiencing sharp increases in health and human services spending.

West Virigina is finding it must provide as much money to its Judges as they request. A Supreme Court decision ruled that the legislature can not reduce the budget sent to it from the judicial branch.

South Dakota states its entire budget is $1 billion with half going toward education.

North Carolina notes that the state subsidizes half of higher education spending.

Virginia is strongly influenced by legislators who pledged not to raise taxes. Instead, $1.2 billion of new fees have been created.

Rhode Island reports that the Governor has proposed severe budget cuts.

Kentucky reports it is having difficulties with its state retirement plan. It has to sell a $890 million bond to keep the plan actuarially sound.


Chris Atkins, Staff Attorney for the Tax Foundation, told of a Harris Poll of 2,000 adults his foundation commissioned. Those surveyed told which state and local taxes they thought were unfair. The results were those surveyed found the gas tax the least fair, followed by the local property tax (a very visible tax), followed by the motor vehicle tax, followed by the state income tax, followed by the state sales tax, and then followed by cigarette and alcohol taxes, which were thus seen as the most fair tax. It should be noted that many cigarette and alcohol consumers felt this is an unfair tax.

As for Federal taxes, those surveyed found the estate tax as the least fair tax (even though only 20,000 last year paid this tax, yet people may find it unfair to think of death as a taxable event), followed by the gas tax, followed by the income tax, followed by a tie between the corporate tax and the social security payroll tax, followed by cigarette and alcohol taxes, which were seen as the most fair Federal tax.

58% of those surveyed stated they believe Federal income taxes are too high and 2% thought the burden was too low. When asked what the income tax should be, which currently average 32%, the average response was that it should be 14.7%.

70% of those surveyed stated they would be unwilling to pay more in taxes to close the budget deficit. 83% stated they believe that federal taxes are too complex.

Harley Duncan, Executive Director of the Federation of Tax Administrators, notes there are about 7,500 local tax jurisdictions. State sales taxes range from 4% to 7% with a median rate of 5.75%. Sales tax revenues are the largest source of state tax revenues. Local taxes usually are from 1% to 3% although the highest rate is 11%.

Mr. Duncan notes that 21 states provide for free filing of income taxes over the Internet. He also observes that several sales allow private debt collectors to collect tax debts.


Among issues being explored by NCSL committees are energy regionalism, managing federal lands, national farm policy, rural policy, Superfund policies, water quality, rail and agriculture, interstate shipment of inspected meat, education technology, reauthorize SCHIP, Medicaid rule making, child support issues, product liability, and campaign finance reform.


Shelley Fuid Nason, Public Policy Director of the Susan G. Komen Affiliates for the Cure, told how people with breast cancer have vastly improved chances of surviving if the disease is diagnosed early. This also reduces health care costs. She urged for increased investment in breast cancer screening tests. Her Center has funds available to supplement Federal funds for screening of low income people who often have limited access to health care programs.

Margaret Larson, Director of the Illinois Governor’s Office, advised that policies that state governments could pursue to combat breast cancer would be to include treatment eligibilities and to provide universal health care for all diseases including breast cancer. She noted there is a 95% survival rate if breast cancer is treated when it is confined to the breast. States received funds for early detection of breast cancer programs. Illinois provides free breast cancer screenings for low income women aged 35 through 64. Illinois specifically targets African American women are this population more often does not have breast cancers detected until they are in an advanced stage.

Illinois appropriated $2.1 million for breast cancer programs in 2006, $4.25 million in 2007, and $7.25 million in 2008. Some of the funds were provided from a Ticket for a Cure scratch-off lottery ticket that raised $3.7 million. Free screenings are provided to women whose incomes are 250% or less of the poverty level, an increase from the previous cutoff at 200% or less of the poverty level. 21,000 women are expected to be screened this year.

State Rep. Dan Frankel stated Pennsylvania has make strides on fighting breast cancer yet there is more to be done. He told how he became more involved in the issue as the Race for the Cure race raising funds for breast cancer programs goes through his legislative district. He notes that 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer and that his constituents demand he do something. He notes state governments can respond by providing treatment to low income women who can’t otherwise afford treatment. He further notes that some state programs will only treat a woman diagnosed at a government screening. This presents problems as the government screening programs have only enough funds to screen about a third of women wishing to be screened. He believes it should not matter where a woman was screened in order for her to get treatment. Rep. Frankel is proposing a bill before the Pennsylvania legislature to allow for the government treatment of women screened in private screenings.


Celinda Lake, President of Lake Research Partners, which does polling for mostly Democratic candidates, sees voters being in a mood for change. They are frustrated and angry at the President. Yet, the Democrats have yet to prove themselves to the voters as they seem to be turned off by partisan politics.

Iraq stands out as the most important issue to voters, according to Celinda Lake. As for state issues, the economy rates as the top issue in states where the economy is not good. In states where the economy is good, education and health care rate as the top issues. Voters have high expectations that issues will be dealt with on the state level as they have low expectations on issues being resolved at the Federal level.

Women voters are emerging as a critical voting force. Health care is important to women, as 80% of health care decisions are made by women. 60% of women also believe that going to war in Iraq was a mistake.

Voters who are veterans and families of veterans are a potential opportunity for Democratic outreach, according to Celinda Lake. Over half of reservists and their family members are registered as Democrats. They are concerned about the treatment of soldiers and the kinds of arms and supplies they are being provided, or the lack thereof.

Voters are worried about the future. 55% of those surveyed believe the national economy currently is not good and 16% think the economy will get better in the future. The majority believe their children will be worse off economically then they are. Celinda Lake notes this is a fundamental change in the American psyche that many political leaders are missing.

Voters are worried about rising health care costs and that their wages and benefits are not keeping up with health care costs, according to Celinda Lake. These worries are found even in states where the economy is good. Her surveys also identify energy as a key concern among voters. The public believe a good energy policy can protect the environment, improve national security and create jobs. Three fourth of voters give the U.S. Energy Department poor ratings.

Unmarried Americans have reached a historic importance in our society and in politics, Celinda Lake notes. Many unmarried women have strong sentiments towards Democrats yet they do not tend to register to vote or vote when registered as strongly as do married women.

Kellyann Conway, President of the Polling Company, Inc., which has mostly Republican clients, noted that a question not addressed by most political analysts is where pro-war Democrats and anti-war Republicans are turning politically. She notes that the way voters view politics can shift quickly. In 2004, she believes voters favored Bush because he took stands on issues and stuck to them while Kerry flip flopped on issues. In 2006, voters rejected Bush’s policies because they viewed him as being stubborn for sticking to his views. She also noted that a year ago George Allen was a favorite candidate for President among active conservative Republicans and today, after his reelection defeat, he is not even a candidate.

Kellyann Conway believes it is too early to tell much about the 2008 elections. She believes a key component will be whether a candidate can connect to voters and show the candidate is someone like they are.

Neither political party has a good program for outreach to Asian voters, according to Kellyann Conway. She notes this is one of the fastest growing categories of voters and that many have high household incomes and many are small business owners.

She further noted that the Catholic vote is no longer as monolithic as it once was. She states that church going Catholics now vote more in accordance with evangelicals, devout Jews, and devout Muslims than with other Catholics.


Robert Barth, Assistant U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, states he believe the Real ID law can be implemented. He noted that changes can be made in how it will be implemented and that his Department is considering advice being given by state government leaders. The final rule for Real ID should be issued during this summer and that states will be expected to be in compliance with the rules by May 11, 2008.

Assistant Secretary Barth notes that implementing Real IDs was a key recommendation of the September 11 Commission. He notes that many hijackers had fake IDs. He sees the costs averaging about $20 per real ID.

One attendee questioned how states such as Oregon, which issue drivers licenses for eight years, can be expected to provide new IDs to all drivers within three years as required by the Real ID law. Barth responded by telling of the need for a secure document. He also noted that states may decide to opt out of the program, as Maine has. Yet this will mean that a Maine ID will not be allowed to be used to board commercial aircraft. He also noted that his Department offered to allow someone from state governments to advise them on a daily basis on how to implement Real ID provisions. Only New York has accepted this offer.


The proposed resolutions and policy actions were all adopted.

Approved were resolutions for state representation on Regional Transmission Organizations, greater Federal and state cooperation on environmental protection and resisting Federal preemption of state authority on land use regulations, fully implementing greater secondary Farmer Mac markets, permitting the interstate sale of state inspected meat and poultry, asking that a whenever a federal wilderness designation is made that includes state in-holdings that the state land either by purchased or exchanged for land of equal or greater value elsewhere, that Congress study the greater concentration and vertical integration of the livestock industry, support for greater research on pest control and on animal disease, that government work to alleviate calcium deficiencies in diets, that states should have primacy over the federal government on water rights within state boundaries, that the White House create a rural policy framework, that the Federal government provide greater assistance on recycling and solid waste management, that the Superfund be reauthorized, in support of a no-net loss of wetlands, that funding be restored and enhanced for the Enhancing Education through Technology block grant, that states be allowed flexibility on State Children’s Health Insurance Programs, that states be allowed time to develop corrective actions to their child support automation services, that state and local laws not be preempted by any charitable choice legislation, that state laws on campaign finance reform not be preempted, that state flexibility to allowed on special elections laws, that states be given latitude on laws removing ineligible voters for election rolls, that state product liability laws not be preempted, that the Voters Rights Act remain a priority, and that a national animal identification system in agriculture be fully funded.

Approved were action statements calling for Congress to not reduce Federal aid to Medicaid and urging that state chemical security regulations not be preempted by Federal laws.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Inside the Ovaltine Office, Washedupington, D.C.


(Bush, Dick Cheney, and Condi walk around the room discussing matters.)

As leader of the free world, we need to act.

I hear you.

I think she meant me, not you, Mr. Vice President.

Sorry, Mr. President, I forget we pretend to let you lead.

That’s what Laura said at our prom.

We need to do something about world hunger.

Good idea. I’ll order some Chinese, Mexican, and Italian for dinner.

No. We have to do something about people who are hungry in other countries.

Why? Let them order their own food.

I’m referring to people starving in other countries.

So what? They’re not campaign contributors. I’ve got rich contributors hungry for more business right here in America.

What we need to do is send food to other countries to keep them fed enough so they’ll grow food that will keep rich Americans fed.

That’s sounds confusing, even more confusing over why you convinced me not to look for weapons of mass destruction that didn’t exist so we could go to war to prevent them from being used.

And it’s working. The weapons of mass destruction that didn’t exist haven’t been used against us. Mission accomplished.

So why don’t we just eat the food while it’s here. Why should we send it to other countries just to get other food?

It’s like this. Remember the part of the Republican that elected us: the Religious Right?

You mean those crazies who keep talking about ethics and morals, as if that has anything to go with government?

Do you remember the issues that are most important to the Religious Right?

Sure do. The Christian Coalition states they top priorities are tax cuts, ending abortions, and preventing gay marriages. Which always confuses me because Jesus didn’t say a thing about any of those things.

It seems there is a small segment within the religious community who think it is not right to let people in other countries starve to death. Apparently the starving people make it onto television and makes us all look bad.

Well, what am I supposed to do about that? I could give them a tax break and tell them all to go out and get jobs.

Mr. President, there is another problem that needs addressing?

Who are you?

I’m Mike Leavitt, your Secretary of Health and Human Services.

I have all these secretaries and yet I can’t get one secretary to order my dinner.

Mr. President, obesity has become a national problem. Diabetes, heart disease, and cancer are all rapidly increasing and they are all linked to the national obesity epidemic.

Ow, my head is going through a hurtification. These are too many problems to deal with, obesity, tax breaks, world hunger.

Would it help if I make you laugh? I could go out and shoot another lawyer. Mike Leavitt, you’re not a lawyer, are you?

Wait, I have a solution to these dilemnaifactions. I will declare it to be the patriotic duty of rich, obese American to accept tax credits for liposuction. We’ll take the fat of our land, process it into food chunks to be sent overseas to feed starving people so they may work have to send back to our country to that we may consume the food, become fat again, and quality for more tax credits.

Mr. President, once again you’ve amazed us all.


(Chris speaks to the camera. Bush and Pedro are off to the side at first.)

CHRIS (a fat person, perhaps with some type of drainable liquid hidden inside his or her shirt connected to a drain tube)

I am a typical middle class American struggling to meet loans and mortgages on my home, my business, my car, my limo, and my yacht. I eat a typical everyday American diet of Starbucks, McDonalds, Smith and Wollensky, Starbucks, Ruth’s Christ Steak House, Starbucks, and McDonald’s for a night cap before hitting the bars.

By doing so,. I am doing my patriotic duty to get fat so I may support our American institutions that are the foundation of our society: the corporate food companies and food distributors who sacrifice greatly to allow us to eat fat and sugar until we become fat.

It is time for me to give back to this country and the corporations that have made our country, and made me, as big as we are today. This is why I voluntarily sacrifice the very fat from my body and proudly accept a tax credit against my interest income for liposuction that I then invest back into making me and this country bigger still.

Hi, I’m President Bush. Not only am I glad to provide this patriotic American with a tax credit, but there’s more. Meet Pedro.


(to Pedro)
Don’t talk. Just look pitiful.

(to viewers)
Now, Pedro is from Uruaganda or somewhere in one of the large continents with a lack of single family homes. Zahir is a hard working farmer raising rice…


Coca, which brings lots of hot cocoa on those cold mornings.

Yeah, hot cocoa. We’ll go with that story.

Now Carlos here…


Whoever he is, he doesn’t have enough to eat to be a productive farmer. One can’t ingest coca all the time and feel energized to be a full productive worker.

You should know sir.

So please help Miguel out and donate your fat for a tax credit to fight world hunger.

And I am hungry. Are there any cheese and crackers left in the green room?

And it’s simple to do. Look.

(Chris activates the liquid passing through the tube.)

So Juan, doesn’t that look yummy?

Hello no. I want cheese and crackers.

And Alberto can literally live off the fat of America. Here, Alberto, drink some.

No way. You drink it.

Alright, I will.

(Bush drinks some a glass of liquid.)

Ahh, the fat of rich Americans always nourishes me and my administration.

(Dick runs into the office.)

Sorry, Mr. President, but I have to shut this operation down.

But, I was going to give myself the Presidential Medal of Honor for this.

The environmentalists are onto us.

Curses. Let me guess, they claim this somehow leads to global warming, as if global warming is even a real thing.

No, it turns out this fat can be converted into oil.

You mean this fat can help solve the energy crisis? They why shut down this operations?

You idiot. We don’t want to solve the energy crisis.

Yeah, Juanita, where’s the profit in that?

My bad…Hey, guys, anyone where want to buy some…hot cocoa powder?


(Noah Anderson does not observe Bush behind him)

BUSH (speaking through megaphone)
Noah. Noah Anderson of Millville, New Jersey.

NOAH (looking around but not seeing Bush)
Yeah? Who’s this?

This is the voice of God.

(Noah drops to his knees.)
God? Is that you, God?

God no. This is President Bush, the self-appointed voice of God.

NOAH (laughs and rises to his feet)
Ahh, you got me.

Did I say to get up?

NOAH (falls back onto his knees)
No…ahh…am I under arrest?

No, although, under the Patriot Act, I can easily arrange that if I wanted.

What do you want?

I want you to buy a yacht.

But, I can’t afford a yacht.

I’ll raise the tax breaks for buying yachts.


Then I want you to gather animals.

And you want me to then put the animals onto the yacht?

BUSHNo, barbecue them. You’ll be serving them as food at cotillions.


Yes, I want you to build a high white sands beach in the middle of Millville.

A beach? In the of Millville? But that’s crazy.

That’s not crazy and believe me, I know crazy.

Why build a beach in the interior of New Jersey?

I’ll level with you.


This global warming…turns out it’s true. Looks like small villages such as New York City, Newark, Princeton will all be wiped out. The new shoreline, turns out, will be along your property in Millville.


So, here’s the deal. You build the beach, the yacht dealership, swanky hotels, cheap motels, and we’ll split it evenly, 60-60. We’ll both be rich beyond our wildest dreams.

But you could get America to lead by example and get the world to work together to prevent global warming.

I said…we’ll be rich by our wildest dreams.

NOAH (slaps his forehead)
Of course.

(Bush out tube and liquid from previous sketch)

Plus, look at this great drink we can sell.


Welcome to Starsucks Coffee Shot.

What’s the difference between your Greek coffee and your Columbian coffee?

The Greek coffee is make with the liposucked fat of a Greek person while the Columbina coffee is made from the liposucked fat of a Columbian person.

I’ll try it Greek style.

Good choice. You’ll be glad to know that now we’re using human fat we actually are offering coffee drinks with less fat than our rival Starbucks.

What is your Spears drink?

Try some. It’s a limited edition celebrity drink made from the fat of Brittney Spears.

There’s a hair in it.

PAT (holds a photograph of Brittney Spears bald)
That’s not possible.

It’s a small hair.

I told her to wear panties.

(Noah enters.)

I can’t decide what I want. I’ll have two of everything.

(backdrop shows many obese people on a beach)

We’ll, they’re not laughing now. Due to global warming, I control the nation’s beachfront properties.

Too bad Dick Cheney can’t be here with us.

Yes, unfortunately, due to the stress of global warming, his ticker went out.

His heart?

No, the ticker announcing the prices of his stock investments.

(Karl Rove runs onto the beach)

Mr. President, I have urgent news. It turns out Al Gore was right after all.

That’s not news. We both know Gore running won Florida in 2000.

No, not that. It’s the global warming. It’s worse than even we in the White House thought.

(A bucket of water hits Bush.)

BUSH (falling to the ground like the shrinking Wicked Witch.)
This is terrible. My wet clothes are ruined. I’m shrinking, I’m shrinking.


(Dick Cheney and Pat are at a beach)

(backdrop shows a vacant beach with sign reading Lancaster, Pennsylvania)

George always was a fool. A drink, to the real new coast line.

Another Spears coffee?

No, I want something exotic and rare. Give me a Calista Flockhart coffee.

It Takes a Couselor to Advise a Village to Raise a Child

It is a basic goal of education to prepare a child with the knowledge to excel in our future economy. It is also vital to guide children on how to use integrate this knowledge towards career goals. School counselors provide this crucial link that emotionally prepares children to handle the intellectual development that teachers provide.

In my years of researching issues, I have listened to many experts on assorted crises facing our young. I have spoken with administrators at schools where students shot other students to death, corrections experts who sought to develop empathy from adjudicated youths whose emotions have not fully developed, parents of students scared to attend school due to bullying, and numerous others who were a part of negative school incidences. In each of these and other school crises, I have learned a critical bit of advice to pass along to all who are interested in children and educational issues: School counselors, when provided proper and adequate resources, are extremely effectively in handling these crises and are essential to avoiding them,

School counselors do not just solve problems or avert crises. They help guide well adjusted students towards exploring their strengths and achieving at higher levels. These students will become future innovators, leaders, and productive contributors toward improving our future communities and organizations.

Counselors, when properly trained, recognize the problems facing children. They work on making early identification of troubles and providing early intervention at resolving difficulties. Doing so avoid provides many beneficial results. Bullies learn empathy and stop brutalizing others. Less bullying means fewer victims becoming fearful to attend school and to then learn. Changing a bully into one who appreciates others leads to a lifetime of stable social interactions. This also avoids paths that otherwise might lead bullies towards violence and unstable interactions.

Students who are under-achieving require counseling on the reasons for their sub-par scholastic performances. Counselors who know where to direct students towards individualized solutions help these students both become better students and in the long run better adults. The results of proper counseling are well known. Students who perform better academically are more apt to go on to college, earn high incomes, and lead more stable lives. Students who fail emotionally and academically at school are more apt to become much lower wage earners and perhaps find violent crime as a career choice.

Many mental health issues have early warning signs that are identifiable in the early teenage years. School counselors know to look for these signs and to see that troubled youth have their difficulties addressed. While not all troubled students develop mental health problems, it is still important to realize this key fact: dealing with and helping a troubled youth resolves immediate problems. It is an added bonus that any early problem resolved prevents far more serious future difficulties.

We are aware these problems exist. It is important that we address them. Unfortunately, all too many school districts are choosing to ignore them. While estimates vary, most experts believe approximately one in five children face a mental health issue. This is a child that needs a skilled counselor to recognize which children face which mental health needs. A skilled counselor then needs works to see each child handles and overcomes their mental health challenges. This results in many mentally healthier children who become more adjusted and more successful adults. For a small investment in counseling services at an early age, many future rewards are achieved.

Experts generally estimate that one in ten children have a devastating mental health issue. These mental health challenges stagnates these children’s education and slows their emotional progress. Without intervention at an early age with proper counseling services, these students often fail to achieve the academic knowledge and emotional maturity to succeed in life. With reduced emotional and emphatic development, such children are more apt to fail in relationships and turn to violence and/or criminal behavior. Early intervention is crucial for these children as it is easier to turn such children around while they are younger and brain development is ongoing and not yet set in adulthood.

Turning a troubled child into a productive adult is a valuable social investment. Corrections and adult mental health costs, which are among the fastest growing expenditures to state government budgets, would be vastly reduced. Ironically, due to the growing costs of corrections and adult mental health, these costs are crowding out other appropriations within government budgets such as education. Thus, many school districts are cutting back school counseling services. This is a temporary cost saving that will only explode future public budgets while also harming our communities.

School counselors are among the first items slashed in education budget crunches. Many school administrators discover they barely have enough funds for educational instruction. They are unable to shift funds to non-instructional items such as counseling.

This is one of the worst policy decisions we are creating. When looking at recent headline problems, from the uncommunicative students who become violent to the academic wonders who become bullies and later criminals such as drug dealers, many of the public often asks: where were their teachers when they saw these early warning signs in these people’s childhood? The answer is the teachers were doing their jobs teaching. It takes school counselors to work with troubled students, their teachers, and their family members to resolve childhood problems.

If we remove the counselors, we are guaranteeing many more future negative headlines. The question no longer will be asked “where were the teachers?” The proper question that will be asked will be “where were we?”

Moses Lead Them to High Rise Apartments

The recent Robert Moses exhibits in several New York museums were fascinating to this former Planning Commissioner and “policy wonk” for the past 22 years with the Pennsylvania legislature. It was intriguing reading the current critical comments that challenged the essence of what I was taught three decades ago regarding City Planning. Then, Robert Moses was then demonized by many in academia. History now sheds different insights into the results of his works.

Some of these attempts to reconcile the benefits of what were built with the politics and attitudes of the 1920s through 1970s are insightful. It is worthwhile acknowledging that he was a master builder who had abilities to attain and achieve power to negotiate for his desired results of public projects, highways, parks, and Jones Beach. This requires balancing with the limitations of that lack of knowledge in Moses’ days about the uncertainties of what externalities and unintended consequences would result along with the shameful racial attitudes that admittedly were more prevalent then.

Robert Moses was a public official who got things done, although not only want he wanted. The democratic process rightfully prevents anyone from gaining all they seek. Often, in Moses’ instances, getting many things accomplished created better results than doing little. The inability of some cities to respond to oncoming crises has led them relatively worse off today compared to New York City. Still, we also must recognize that a lot of what Robert Moses did was wrong. I state this not to fault Robert Moses. I doubt he sought to make mistakes. He definitely did not have the benefit of foresight that we in hindsight have. Still, this does not change the result that, in my opinion, some of his policy decisions were wrong.

One of the grandest mistakes Robert Moses made is echoed in most low income projects of his times. The turn to high rise housing for low income people was, and still is, a major error. Clearing blight was, and remains, positive actions. Yet, not providing adequate housing for those displaced was, and remains, unconscionable. Taking such action against low income people who mostly lacked the political power to defend themselves against this neglect was, and remains, cruelty at its worse.

Creating high rise projects were relatively inexpensive attempts to addressing low income peoples’ housing needs. On the positive side, Robert Moses and New York officials recognized that providing parks would provide some relief to people crowded into high rise projects. Many other cities failed to recognize the value of parks.

High rise projects were perceived by many of their residents as unattractive and depressing placed to live. Living there created a negative stigma that remained with subsequent generations. The buildings created, for some, a lack of self-respect that led to a lack of respect for the physical buildings. There was less of a desire for building upkeep and communal living left much to disrepair. The negative attitudes of residents sometimes led to vandalism, graffiti, arson, etc.

The parks, while allowing some fresh air outlet, also became extended targets of vandalism, graffiti, arson, etc. Some saw them not as social center yet as opportunities for gathering for criminal behavior. Many parks became, and remain, areas of drug dealing and violent behavior.

While planners may not have fully recognized this then, a better solution was, and remains, to have built a system of low rise buildings along the boundaries and interiors of these parks and low income areas and maintained courtyards within the system of low rises.

It is just as easy to fit as many apartments in a system of connecting low rises then in a high rise building. Low rise buildings are generally more attractive to residents. They thus are more alluring and less depressing in which to reside. Further, the fewer floors are more conducive to neighboring and generating community spirit. This creates greater respect and pride for the quality of each others’ residences. Low rise buildings tend to be better maintained and tend to have less vandalism, graffiti, arson, etc.

Low rise apartments with large exterior borders allow for courtyards serving as interior park areas. Being surrounded by apartments viewing them, these courtyards are more easily communally policed. With the additional benefit that low rise apartments tend to foster a greater communal spirit, children and teenagers grow up and can play in courtyards with better supervision. This community supervision also greatly reduces drug dealing, criminal behavior, and general mischief. Further, these courtyards tend to be better respected and less prone than larger parks to being vandalized.

A system of low rise apartments with courtyards does not solve all low income housing problems. Nor do we find that all high rise tenant living bad. Overall, what I recommend is what I believe is preferable. Robert Moses deserves credit for realizing the beneficial association of residential living with convenient park activities. What is needed is to more effectively implement this convergence of home and environment.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Instead, Make Them Laugh to Death

The New York Times survey indicating that 10 of the 12 states without the death penalty had below average homicide rates provides a great service to the realization that the death penalty does not deter murder. This is further confirmation of other historic data similarly showing that nations and states with the death penalty often have lower homicide rates than nations and states with the death penalty।

Many have recognized the obvious conclusion that the death penalty does not deter murder. What many have missed is not that the homicide rates are similar but that the homicide rates are lower in areas without the death penalty. It is theorized there are some people a.) of a self-destructive nature who may kill over the subconscious desire to be caught and put to death, i.e. suicide by society and b.) who are thrill seekers whose flaunting of the death penalty incites them to kill. What this demonstrates is not only does the death penalty fail to deter murder: it may even be an incentive in some instances to commit murder.

So long as places with the death penalty have higher homicide rates, we should recognize that the death penalty does not achieve its goal of deterring murder. Indeed, it may be increasing the number of homicides. The death penalty does not work.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Happiness is Reading a Government Budget

The state budget is at a rare crossroads that provides ADAers a unique opportunity to stand up and defend social programs at a time when they are financially threatened. The Federal government’s funding of state operated social programs has been increasing at rates below the inflation rates. While this allows them to insist they are increasing social services spending, the true results are that programs can not meet continuing existing expenses. Cutbacks are required, and fewer people can be served. For the state budget, the issue sometimes becomes the degree to which state funds can replace or supplement vanishing Federal funds. Yet, the percent of the state budget that is mandated spending has been increasing. This diminishes the ability of the state budget to be flexible enough to fund un-mandated needs.

The fiscal health of the state budget faces mixed prognoses. Income tax revenues are strong. Whether this means total income tax collections will be strong or this only reflects a large proportion of high earning Pennsylvanians only filing earlier than usual remains to be seen.

Sales tax collections are affected by a nationwide sharp decrease in consumer spending and are being collected below expectations. Housing starts are at their lowest levels in several decades. This further depresses consumer spending on household items and lowers sales tax revenues.

Consumers are increasingly purchasing goods over the Internet. Several states have created a consortium to collect sales taxes on Internet goods. Congress is considering legislation that would require all Internet purchases to include state sales taxes from purchases made from consortium state members. Several large Internet retail establishments have voluntarily allowed this consortium to collect states sales taxes. Pennsylvania conservative legislators and the Rendell Administration see this as a tax on their constituents and have prevented Pennsylvania from joining this consortium. Thus, the state budget loses out on collecting these revenues.

Gaming revenues to the state have been unexpectedly stronger than expected. It remains to see whether these revenues will be maintained, or whether this only reflects new excitement over legalized gambling that will soon fade. The financial troubles of Trump Casino in Atlantic City may provide warnings that the market for gaming in our region is reaching a saturation point where further expansion will be less profitable. In addition, there are serious concerns over the degree to which gaming revenues are only shifts from other consumer spending that is lowering sales tax revenues.

The sum of these conflicting forecasts presents uncertainly regarding the state’s future budget health. There are serious concerns that the 2008-2009 budget is headed towards a deficit For ADAers, now is the time to not only fight for 2007-08 budget priorities but to see they receive long term commitments. Agencies are now drafting their budgets for 2008-2009. Advocates should contact legislators concerning next year’s budget yet should also be contacting the Governor’s office regarding the following year’s potentially more constrained budget.

The Federal government appears unlikely to assist state governments. Indeed, they appear more posed to mandate the spending of greater state funds without providing adequate Federal funds. Children’s health programs, Medicaid, and Medicare are among programs that are under threat from funding cuts. Congress should also be lobbied to restrict unfunded mandates, such as a Real ID, at a time the state cannot afford them.

The time to lobby for your budget priorities is now. Early input can be more effective rather than waiting until late in the budgeting process. Future budget priority conflicts will likely intensity, and those priorities that are advanced and defended earlier are more apt to succeed.

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